Experienced caravanner and Journalist Doug King explains how to check your caravan’s noseweight using the different types of gauges available.
For more general information on loading read our article on How to correctly load your caravan.
Having the correct noseweight is vital to towing stability. Too light, and the outfit becomes unstable because the caravan will tend to lift the rear of the towcar; too heavy and the load on the towball will cause the front of the vehicle to lift so affecting the steering. This can obviously lead to serious accidents and Caravan Guard have no doubt seen many caravan insurance claims as a result of poor stability over the years.
Finding the correct noseweight
The correct noseweight for the caravan is the lowest of three noseweight figures: that of the caravan chassis manufacturer; that of the tow vehicle manufacturer; and that of the towbar manufacturer. The chassis manufacturer stamps both the maximum noseweight and the maximum load that the coupling is designed to carry on the coupling. These figures are identified by the letters ‘S’ and ‘GA’ respectively. The towcar’s maximum noseweight will be found in the owner’s manual, whilst the maximum noseweight on the towbar will be found on the towbar plate. Whichever is the lowest is the one you have to work to.
In some instances – in the case of older caravans for example – there may be no indication of what the noseweight should be. In such circumstances you should work on the basis of it being between 5 and 7 per cent of the caravan’s MTPLM. For example: caravan MTPLM of 1400kg, the noseweight would be 70kg at 5 per cent or 98kg at 7 per cent. This shows a wide variation from which it is clear that the noseweight for an individual caravan can vary considerably. In such circumstances, you should work to the lowest figure from the three sources mentioned above providing it falls within these two limits.
Checking the caravan noseweight
There are four ways in which you can check the noseweight of the caravan: using a pair of bathroom scales; using a spring loaded noseweight gauge; using an electronic noseweight gauge; or by fitting a jockey wheel which incorporates a noseweight scale.
One word of warning: none of the scales mentioned are subject to the Weights and Measures Act and so they should only be regarded as a guide.
To check the noseweight using a pair of bathroom scales you also will need short length of broom stick around 15in long (38cm) long and a piece of wood which is placed on the scales to spread the load.
Proceed as follows: Load the caravan to its MTPLM in the usual way; park it on a flat firm, level surface – concrete or tarmac, not grass – with the steadies raised. Wind the jockey wheel down to raise the hitch and place the scales in position under it. Fit the broom handle into the hitch head and down onto the wood on the scales. Wind the jockey wheel up until the weight of the hitch is fully on the scales and read off the noseweight.
The procedure when using a proprietary noseweight gauge is basically the same. In the case of an electronic gauge, this is fitted onto the towball on the tow car and the caravan is then hitched to it. The noseweight is displayed on the screen.
Both Al-Ko Kober, the company which supplies 90 per cent of the chassis and couplings to the British caravan industry, and BPW which supplies the remainder, offer jockey wheels as an optional extra incorporating noseweight scales. These obviously mean that you can check the noseweight every time you load the caravan. After the first correct check, you might use a permanent marker to mark the position on the gauge.
Adjusting your caravan’s noseweight
Within the limits set by the chassis, towcar and towbar manufacturers, the heavier the noseweight the better, but if it exceeds the lower of their figures, then you need to adjust the loading of the caravan. It is permissible to move heavy objects slightly to the rear of the axle line – but not more than about 2ft (60cm). If that doesn’t bring the noseweight within the limits then there are two alternatives: move some of the load into the towcar; or leave them behind.